Biden's Cabinet half-empty after slow start in confirmations

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President Joe Biden, right, attends a virtual meeting with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Monday, March 1, 2021, in Washington. Also pictured is Secretary of State Antony Blinken, second from right, and White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan, third from right. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden’s Cabinet is taking shape at the slowest pace of any in modern history, with just over a dozen nominees for top posts confirmed more than a month into his tenure.

Among Biden’s 23 nominees with Cabinet rank, just 13 have been confirmed by the Senate, or a little over half. And among the 15 core nominees to lead federal agencies, 10 have been confirmed, or about two thirds. According to the Center for Presidential Transition, about a month into their first terms, the previous four presidents had 84% of their core Cabinet picks confirmed.

On Tuesday, Biden's cabinet was thrown into further uncertainty when his nominee to lead the White House budget office, Neera Tanden, withdrew from consideration after her nomination faced opposition from key senators on both sides of the aisle.

The delay in confirmations means some departments are left without their top decision-makers as they attempt to put in place policies to address the overlapping crises brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

Former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala said there are a number of “big decisions” at HHS and across the federal government that are waiting on leadership from the top.

“It’s very unfortunate. And in the middle of a huge health crisis, it’s the wrong thing to do,” she said. “Civil servants are capable, but they need leadership. And they’re used to having leaders.”

Shalala was confirmed two days after President Bill Clinton was sworn in, and said she had her chain of command ready to go and could immediately dig into a long list of decisions and policy changes.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, the Biden administration’s HHS nominee, will get a committee vote Wednesday, and he’s expected to receive easy confirmation. But Shalala pointed to a laundry list of issues — from oversight of hospitals, health care companies and nursing homes during the pandemic to issues surrounding drug pricing, telemedicine and child care services — that urgently need his input.